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Kiwi Farms And Hobbits!

Christchurch is far behind us now as we have driven another 972 kilometers (604 miles) in the past two days. We drove from Christchurch to Picton to pick up the Bluebridge Ferry and then spent a night in Wellington. The following morning we drove to Aongatete where we arrived at the Aongatete Air B&B. This beautiful apartment is located on the bottom floor of a much larger house and is surrounded by a Kiwi farm and an avocado plantation. We were greeted as we arrived by our host, Amber, as well as her adorable puppy, Oscar. Amber was very sweet. She led us to the apartment and showed us around. The apartment is wonderful and has a fantastic view of the backyard. We love this place.

We woke up the following morning and decided we would just hang out around the apartment for the day. After all, there are beautiful gardens and wonderful places to walk and enjoy the scenery. Dan and I took a walk after breakfast to check out how Kiwis are grown and view the beautiful grounds. We’d never seen kiwi plants before so this was a new one for us. Heck, it wasn’t until we arrived in New Zealand that we understood exactly how you are supposed to eat a kiwi. If you don’t know, let me share as it was a revelation for us. Apparently, the kiwi people just cut them in half and then use a spoon to scrape the skin off of them as they pull out a “ball” of fruit. Yep…one kiwi is basically two bites. Who knew?

For dinner this evening we took the one hour drive to Matamata for our last big adventure for this trip. What’s in Matamata? Hobbiton. What’s that? Well, if you are like me you probably don’t know much about Hobbiton. At least I didn’t until I started researching things to do in New Zealand. Hobbiton is where they filmed the Lord of the Rings movies. Not being one for far out movies like these I had no idea but when I saw their website and how cool it looked I knew we had to see this place.

When you arrive at the designated area you are then transferred to a bus that takes you to the actual movie set. It’s out on this beautiful plot of land and since it was later in the day the light was just fabulous as the sun’s golden rays bounced off the ponds and tall grasses. Once we arrived at the set we were escorted through to the actual shire. Here we were divided into a couple of groups and from there we were escorted around the shire where they told us interesting facts about the movies and how the set was created and used.

One kind of funny fact is that there is a large pond in the middle of the shire. When they started filming they found there were so many frogs in the pond that they actually overpowered their audio equipment. What did they do? They hired someone to come and sweep the pond of all the frogs. This person relocated the frogs to a pond several miles away. It worked for a few days but all of the the frogs returned. They repeated this process over and over until they eventually had to relocate the frogs more than 12 kilometers (7 miles) away. Even then they came back. It just took longer so it gave them more time to film in between the frog sweeps.

Another cool fact is that the tree that is shown on top of Bilbo Baggins’ home is actually fake. The producers had this tree made for the set. The reason? Well, they wanted to be sure the tree looked exactly the same in each of the movies. Each leaf was painstakingly glued to the tree and as leaves fell off between filming they were replaced. They even have a smaller version of the tree for one of the movies where they go back in time. The interesting part of this is that they spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to create this tree and it appeared for just a few seconds in all of the movies combined.

After our tour of the movie set we were led to the Green Dragon Inn where we were treated to some tasty beer and a wonderful hobbit style meal. It was served family style on these long tables. There was so much food. It was truly a feast! And, it was really tasty. We ate and ate until we were stuffed and then they brought out these boards filled with desserts so we ate some more.

Once dinner was done we were led back into the bar at the Green Dragon where we were handed lanterns. The time had come for our tour of the shire at night. Well, it certainly was very beautiful at night as well with all of the lights on the little hobbit holes. The nighttime part of the tour took about a half an hour and then we were led back to our busses.

Like I said, I’m not much of a Lord of the Rings movie watcher. In fact I never even watched one until we came home. I did find it interesting to watch one having been to the set but I’m still not a fan. They are too dark and strange for my taste. As for the movie set…I loved it! The only thing I wish they had done differently would be to have had people dressed as hobbits walking around. You know…make it a little more Disney like. Now that would have been super cool. But, as it was, it was a fun evening and one more thing we can check off our bucket list.


Jilly & Captain Dan

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Historic Churches And The Dinner Tram

Mama always said I’d go to hell if I didn’t change my ways.

Our next big adventure in Christchurch was to hit downtown and see some of the sights there. You may or may not be aware but Christchurch endured two earthquakes about 8 years ago. The first was a 7.1 magnitude quake that hit in early September 2010 and the second, a 6.2, hit a couple of months later in February 2011. They did massive damage to this historic town and 185 lives were lost. These days they call Christchurch “A City In Mourning” because it still hasn’t quite recovered from the damage. This is rather evident as you travel about the city. Of all of the places we’ve visited so far this city had more homeless people and lots of gang tagging everywhere. It’s quite sad to see and hear how these quakes affected this once vibrant, historical city.

With all of this damage many of their most beautiful and historic buildings were lost. One of the most significant is the ChristChurch Cathedral. Apparently there was a lot of debate about whether or not to restore it and finally they have agreed to do so. During our stay here we had an opportunity to view the dilapidated church. It is really a somber sight but the fact that it’s being restored brings hope that the city will someday recover from these disasters.

As you can see, the old cathedral experienced a lot of damage. We’re thrilled to see they are working to restore it.

With one of the city’s main churches out of commission the city needed to do something to help people to heal so they built a transitional cathedral called the Cardboard Cathedral. A Japanese architect, Shigeru Ban, designed this cathedral and it’s really quite something to see. It’s an A-frame that rises 79 feet to the peak. The beams are made of 86 cardboard tubes reinforced with wood beams. The ceiling is polycarbonate and the walls are made from eight shipping containers. Even the cross at the alter is made of cardboard. No, it’s not meant to last forever, rather to last for 50 years. The point it to show that post disaster buildings can be built quickly and last long enough to allow a city to transition back into some sort of normalcy. It is definitely something interesting to see.

We also visited a quaint little street with shops and restaurants. We stopped and had an ice cream cone and even ran into a statue of Grape Ape. Who knew they were aware of him down here in Kiwi Country?

For dinner we had a very special evening planned. We had reservations on the Christchurch Tramway Restaurant. At $109 NZD per person it could be considered a bit pricey but this was a fabulous experience. I mean, what could be more fun that having a four star dinner aboard a streetcar while riding around the city? Yes, this was pretty cool and the food was absolutely brilliant. They started us off with the chef’s appetizer of the day then followed that with our choice of salad or ahi tuna. After that you had a choice of one of their amazing main courses and then there was dessert. OH MY! I had the chocolate mousse cake and it was literally to die for! And the city at night was so awesome. It was like having dinner with an ever changing view. The driver offered historical information as we passed through town and the waiters and waitresses were spot on! Yes, this was definitely one of the best things we’ve done so far. This was a treat we will never forget.

We’ve sure enjoyed our stay here but they say, “All good things must sometime end” and for us this is it. Tomorrow we head north to Aogatete where we have an other amazing evening planned….a night at Hobbiton! From there it’s back to Whangarei and then Auckland where alas, our wonderful three week journey will end. It certainly has been a once in a lifetime adventure with amazing friends.


Captain Dan & Jilly